WELD Artist of the Week: Elizabeth Erickson

Career:  Photographer|  Writer
Website:  ElizabethEricksonPhotography.com  |  ElizabethErickson.org
Mantra:  The music of what IS happening can be heard only right NOW, right HERE.  Now/here spells nowhere. To be fully present to whoever or whatever is immediately before us is to pitch a tent in the wilderness of Nowhere. — B. Manning
Interview by:  Kristin Read

Tell me about your combined love for photography and words. How do you tie the two together? How are they distinct art forms?

I never expected to be writing professionally. In fact, I got a journalism degree merely for the added skillset. I was already able to communicate fairly well through dance, photography, journalism, etcetera. It wasn’t until the last week of my senior year that I took a job with a new offshoot of D Magazine as a copywriter and editor. I realized then that I maybe should be pursuing writing professionally as well. But I quickly learned that they [photography and writing] are two totally different processes. With photography, the more you can get right in camera (or done on the front end) the better, because there’s only so much you can change in post-production afterwards. With writing, it’s the exact opposite, you have to put poor product down on paper, knowing that if you get your worst draft out first, you can fully think through the rest of your ideas, and polish it up later.

What kind of photography do you best specialize in?

For the last five years, I’ve primarily worked as a wedding and portrait photographer. But as of late, my number of portrait sessions have increased, and I’m taking the second half of 2013 off from weddings so that I’m able to go back to graduate school.

How would you describe your style?

As a person, I’d say I’m pretty bohemian chic. But my clients tell me they love how I use light in my photos and I believe I inadvertently learned that art from the work of my late grandfather (he died when I was two). He was the first graduate student of the Institute of Design, the “New Bauhaus,” which was a major art movement that found it’s way to the States from Germany after WWII. It was his skilled eye that used darkness and light to tell story in the images he captured, that I believe I inherited. I see that as a generational blessing. I make a point to try and use as much natural light as possible in all of my work, and I think it pays off in the end.

How do you go about making people feel comfortable being themselves and capturing that well?

Honestly, I’ve been fortunate enough to have really good clients, and I’m a pretty relational person by nature. I don’t really care to impress people anymore. And that freedom to make a fool of myself allows others to let their guards down. I have to be fun and spontaneous, if I hope to capture fun and spontaneous.

How much time do you normally spend on an image to make it perfect?

I’m pretty no-nonsense with my images. I don’t do a ton of work in Photoshop, unless there’s something that begs for it. I’m not sure if that’s due in part to my photojournalism training, or if it’s my desire to capture people for who they really are — but that’s my style. There are a number of pictures of me that I just hate . . . but that’s what I look like, so I embrace it. Instead of flawless features, I divert my attention to color — working to keep my palettes true, and making sure that my images are sharp and clean. I really try to spend the majority of my time communicating and building relationship with my clients beforehand and during the process in order to best capture what they and/or I have in mind. Even if that means I meet with a bride and groom a couple of times before the big day — the end product is more than worth it. And those relationships ensure future work. People have designated me as their “family photographer,” and have made me swear I’d be there to photograph each of their anniversaries. I feel really honored and humbled by that.

Are you practicing in any other artistic medium?

I feel like I pick up and start different projects all the time. I do write and play music on my own . . . I have a couple of friends that I’m working on co-writing an album with (for her to sing). I’ve always loved music, but I don’t have any aspirations to have a career of my own in it. There are also a number of short film/video projects I’d like to expand on. And I have a couple of ideas for feature film scripts I’d like to write and maybe produce at some point . . . probably in the distant future.

What is your main goal as a photographer? And as a writer?

I’m equally passionate about both words and images — they’re both vehicles that allow you to tell stories to the world. In a way, I’m combining the two mediums as I go back to school this fall. My goal in that is to create a media therapy program that can be implemented in orphanages and institutions around the world. The thought is to reach children who are being underdeveloped and/or have been through trauma (abandonment, those rescued from prostitution, etcetera) to be able to receive inner healing and rehabilitation. I want to streamline a process that anyone can implement across cultures, where we can take in an iPad, cameras and other tools as well as employing the use of interactive environments, video gaming and other mediums to help kids create, explore and heal — where you can be a facilitator in their healing without having to have a PhD. in psychology. It’s nice having photography as the backbone, but making sure the two mediums converge has always been a big part of my heart.

Any cool upcoming projects?

I’m wrapping up my first co-write book now, on creativity and communication, which should be finished by the end of summer. And starting graduate school. I’m wanting to get to a place where I can really make money writing my own stuff . . . because I have like five books off the top of my head that I want to write as well as continuing to shoot great images of really great people.

Doug Klembara